Campaigning begins for Portuguese presidential election


Campaigning for Portugal’s presidency officially got underway Sunday, with a record 10 candidates, led by conservative Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, contending the Jan. 24 ballot.

De Sousa, a 67-year-old professor of law and veteran TV political commentator, is backed by 52.9 percent of the public, according to an opinion poll of 600 voters, published Sunday by the newspaper Correio da Manha.

If so, he could be elected in the first round. A runoff will be held Feb. 14 if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of votes cast.

De Sousa’s main rivals are an independent left-wing candidate, Antonio Sampaio da Novoa, with 16.9 percent of the vote, and Socialist Maria de Belem Roseira, with 11.8 percent, according to the poll.

The outgoing president is Anibal Cavaco Silva, a 76-year-old conservative, who is completing a second consecutive five-year term.

Portugal’s head of state has a largely ceremonial role, but in a crisis is empowered to dissolve parliament and play the role of deal-maker.

The country has been going through a period of uncertainty and tension following legislative elections last October in which the governing right-wing coalition garnered most votes but lost the absolute majority it had enjoyed since 2011.

Weeks of political limbo ensued before the emergence of a new left-wing, anti-austerity government led by Socialist Antonio Costa, 54, in alliance with communists, Greens and the Left Bloc group.